Mushrooms and Edible Fungi

What purpose do the gills of mushrooms serve?

Mushrooms of the genus Conocybe and Psilocybin—both with hallucinogenic properties—were considered sacred by the Aztecs, an empire located in Mexico before the 1500s. Psilocybin, which is chemically related to lysengic acid diethylamide (or LSD), is a component of both genera and responsible for the trancelike state and colorful visions (or psychedelic properties) experienced by those people who ingest these mushrooms. In fact, they are still used in certain religious ceremonies by the descendants of the Aztecs.

Gills—the usually linear structures present on the underside of a mushroom’s cap—serve two main purposes: The first is to maximize the surface area where the spores are produced, thus allowing for an increased number of spores; the second purpose is to help hold up the cap of the mushroom. Spores are produced in the basidia—specialized cells that line the surface of the gills. It has been estimated that a mushroom with a cap that is 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) in diameter can produce as many as forty million spores per hour.


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